Motion Control & Drives


NASA relies on maxon technology

July 2018 Motion Control & Drives

NASA’s fifth Mars rover will collect soil samples, seal them and deposit them on the Martian surface for future collection and transport back to earth. Swiss drive specialist, maxon motor, will supply several drives specifically developed for the task to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, which is building the Mars 2020 rover for NASA.

The maxon drives are being used for mission critical tasks. The plan is for the rover to take dozens of soil samples, seal them in containers and deposit these in caches on the surface of Mars, where a future mission may retrieve and return them to earth. Nine BLDC motors from Switzerland are responsible for the rover’s sample handling. The drives can be found in the sample caching system, including the end-effector sample tube holder. The sample handling arm moves the sample containers from station to station within the sampling system. Additional motors are used to assist with obtaining the samples and sealing the containers.

For this project, maxon motor uses brushless flat motors from the standard range (EC 32 flat and EC 20 flat combined with a GP 22 HD planetary gearhead). However, the drives have been modified specifically for the mission. They need to survive a dynamic entry, descent and landing sequence, as well as the harsh daily conditions on Mars with sandstorms and temperatures ranging from -130 to +70°C.

From the outside, the Mars 2020 rover looks similar to its predecessor, Curiosity, which is still operating on Mars. However, the upcoming mission will have several new instruments on board that will deliver unique new data for scientists. A key mission goal will be to search the environment for bio-signatures. Another instrument on board will test whether it is possible to generate oxygen from the atmosphere as a precursor for future human visits. However, the most significant innovation is the capability to take rock samples in several locations and prepare them for return to earth.

Currently, maxon motor is involved in several projects destined for Mars. NASA’s InSight Lander launched on 5 May to measure its seismic activities and temperature. A maxon DC motor will power the mole that hammers the measuring sensor into the ground.

Two years later, both NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) will send rovers to Mars. More than 50 maxon drives are installed in ESA’s ExoMars vehicle, including some complex actuator systems that were assembled in maxon’s high tech manufacturing facilities. These actuators provide the main drive and steering systems for the vehicle. Additional precision motors are used in the drill head, the onboard laboratory and the camera mast.

For more information contact Hans Burri, DNH Tradeserve, +27 (0)11 468 2722,  hans.burri@dnhtrade.co.za www.dnhtrade.co.za



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